When Longo Brothers Fruit Markets, a family-run independent grocer in Ontario, announced it would acquire Grocery Gateway’s online grocery business last August, the plan was to expand business and offer more options to customers.

But

along with the acquisition came a new business model and, consequently, a new IT infrastructure. Longo’s and Grocery Gateway had two disparate e-mail systems that didn’t work well together, and suddenly Longo’s needed to support customers on a 24-by-seven basis. While the company now had to deal with business issues in the middle of the night, it didn’t want e-mail to be one of those.

E-mail is now a critical piece of its business, with about 90 per cent of its communications with online customers done through e-mail.

Longo’s was using Novell, while Grocery Gateway was a Microsoft Exchange shop. Longo’s had a relatively small IT department, with 15 stores in the Greater Toronto Area, so it decided to replace its GroupWise messaging platform with Ceryx Hosted Exchange 2003.

“Managing that Exchange environment became outside of our capabilities at that point in time,” said John Charleson, director of IT at Longo’s. “In moving to the Exchange environment, we’d have to buy the server and all the licenses and then manage it.”

It hired Ceryx, a Toronto-based application service provider that specializes in messaging, to manage 200 corporate e-mail accounts (the company has about 2,300 employees). The transition took place over a weekend in mid-October.

Ceryx provides a redundant e-mail solution with data centres in Toronto and New York. “It gives you backup and relieves you from having to manage that e-mail on a daily basis,” said Charleson.

The service includes Ceryx’s Email Firewall, part of its hosted Exchange solution. Since the transition, Longo’s has seen a 79 per cent reduction in the amount of spam and viruses it receives.

“When you’re running your own e-mail, you live in a bubble,” said Elia Stathopoulos, senior sales engineer with Ceryx. “It’s only as good as your staff resources can administer, maintain and support.”

Messaging involves acquiring new hardware and licenses, as well as consulting, preparation, documentation and integration. “A lot of folks have just cobbled things onto their mail system,” he says. “Our ability to examine, research, define a path and march toward it is a big value-add.”

Longo’s also needed to integrate a call centre application for online customers, which wouldn’t work with its existing e-mail system. And it wanted to increase mobility by providing BlackBerry devices to store managers.

“My goal is to take the store managers out of the office and put them out on the floor,” said Charleson.

The problem was that store managers had to use their Telus, Bell or Rogers e-mail accounts, so no corporate identity was maintained during e-mail exchanges. The hosted solution now gives them access to Ceryx’s BlackBerry enterprise server. “Once you integrate a BlackBerry with a BlackBerry enterprise server, you can actually send and receive from your corporate e-mail address,” said Stathopoulos.

Longo’s is also in the process of introducing an inventory control system that will be accessible over the Internet. By using BlackBerry devices, store managers will be able to check their e-mail as well as scan empty shelf spaces to provide stock information for customers. “We can greatly reduce our out-of-stocks and improve the customer experience at the store,” said Charleson. The system will also provide more accurate stock information to online customers.

By outsourcing its e-mail, Longo’s can move on to other things like developing portals or customer-facing applications, says Stathopoulos, as opposed to worrying about whether mail is routing properly or if their anti-virus software is up to date.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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